1909 Holdrege Daily Citizen: 150 History of Phelps

Retyped from the June 24, 1909, Holdrege Daily Citizen

Grand Jury Pronounces Doom of the Old Phelps County Courthouse

Returns True Bill Pointing Out Dangers and Crowded Condition of the Building—-

Valuable Records Have to Be Kept in Wooden Cupboards——Oil Soaked Closet.

Another Menace Found in Their Investigation

Jurors Recommend That Steps Be Taken at Once to Protect County’s Property and to Give Officials Room Needed for Transaction of Business——

Some Bad Features Found in Local Hotels Also in The Full Report

The Phelps County Courthouse has been condemned by a Grand Jury which examined it last week. By pointing out the inadequacy and dangers of the old building, they plainly pronounced its doom.

Any taxpayers who may have thought that the Citizen’s campaign for a new courthouse was started too soon will have reason now to change their opinion. The verdict of the Grand Jury of the subject makes it inevitable that we must, within the next year at least, face the proposition of voting bonds for the modern structure to replace the worn, cramped unsafe building. The Citizen believes the matter should be taken up this fall in connection with the regular elections and thus save unnecessary expenses.

The Grand Jury says, “We therefore recommend that the proper officers adopt some means to provide safe, suitable and sufficient protection for the property of the citizens of the county,” and adds, “This grand jury urges that the life and property of each person in the county is in danger to the extent designated herein.” Does anyone think for a moment that the Grand Jury was recommending that old building to be renovated, and more vaults be built in it thus still further decreasing the office room? That would be the most foolish kind of false economy. Already many thousands of dollars have been spent in securing more vault space and interior changes that as best were only temporary in nature. No, the only sensible way to carry out the recommendations of the grand jurors is to plan for the new building without delay.

With such fine crop prospects, it would seem that the public-spirited people of the county should this fall, vote almost as a unit in favor of a new courthouse that will be a credit to one of the finest counties in the state of Nebraska.

More on the Offices of the Courthouse:

Superintendent’s Office—This office has no safe place for keeping valuable books and records necessary to the office. There is not sufficient room in which to conduct the necessary business incident to the office.

Jury Room—We found same entirely too small, poorly ventilated and unfit for that purpose.

County Attorney’s Office—The County attorney has not a safe place for keeping records of that office.

County Clerk’s Office—We found that he has sufficient vault room.

County Treasurer’s Office—We found the vault in this office inconvenient and insufficient for the present amount of business. The office itself is too small and has no conveniences.

Sheriff and Clerk of the District Court Office—These offices have sufficient room and valet space for present.

County Judge’s Office—We found that the safe in this office would hold only a small portion of the valuable books, papers and documents of that office; that most of the valuable records are kept on the shelves and in wooden cupboards where they are exposed to fire and theft.

We also found a dangerous closet under the stairway. This is used for storing oil, matches and janitors supplies and we especially recommend that the county officers be requested to have it cleaned out at once as it is in a very unsafe condition.

The Grand Jury, after careful inspection of the county courthouse, would suggest that at present there is not an ample, suitable, and safe place to keep all the valuable books, papers, files and records of the several offices; and at present there are no conveniences in the said building; either for the offices compelled to labor therein, nor for the citizens who must transact business there.

We would therefore recommend that the proper offices adopt some means to provide safe suitable and sufficient protection for the property of the citizens of the county.

The inspections herein outlined and the findings therefore are submitted in this report as serious recommendation for this Grand Jury urges that the life and property of each person in the county is in danger to the extent designated herein.

Respectfully submitted

A. W. Danielson

Foreman of the Grand Jury, a true bill

The New Courthouse Is Built

Then on August 3, 1909, a petition signed by 1,039 voters and tax payers of Phelps County was presented to the Board of Supervisors. The petition stated the frame courthouse building was not fireproof and inadequate, and requested the Board of Supervisors to submit to the voters of Phelps County a proposition of bonding the county to the extent of $100,000.00 for the purpose of erecting a new courthouse and jail building. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pass the resolution to submit the question to the voters at the general election in November 1909. The resolution was voted on and passed 1,305 votes to 1,080.

On January 10, 1910, a request for bids was advertised. On February 8, 1910, bids were received and after a day and night session, the bid of Rowles and Bailey of Oklahoma City was accepted and they were awarded the contract for the construction of the new building for the sum of $80,819.00. At the same time, P.N. Kjar was awarded the separate contract for $7,925.00. G.A. Anderson was employed as the building superintendent.

The county offices were then moved, packed and crowded into a little brick jail building. The old frame courthouse was sold at public action for $500.00 and was torn down by the purchaser and on the first day of July 1910, the first dirt for the new excavation was moved.

Cornerstone Laid

Everyone was happy when the big day came to “lay the cornerstone.”

On December 1, 1910, the Holdrege Citizen reported on the grand cornerstone ceremonies held on the prior Saturday. A large crowd of people were in attendance on the windy day. Glover Post No. 111, G.A.R. was in charge of the cornerstone laying. Commander John F. Diener of the Department of Nebraska was present from Syracuse, also Past Commander John Maxson of Minden. These men had direct charge of this portion of the exercises and used a ritualistic ceremony in which members of Glover Post and Company E participated.

The cornerstone was not in reality laid on Saturday. To state things correctly, the two cornerstones (for there were two small stones joined together) were in place Friday where they remained covered by a strip of bunting until unveiled Saturday afternoon. The stones are beautiful pieces of dark Warsaw granite and were placed in the southwest corner of the building. On the south face is chiseled the names of the 1910 board of supervisors and county clerk, C.L. Hedlund. On the west face this inscription appears: “Laid by Glover Post No. 111, G.A.R.; November 26, 1910 – W.F. Gernandt, Fairbury, Nebraska, architect; Rowles & Baily, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, contractors; G.A. Anderson, superintendent.”

Articles placed in the strong box included articles found in the old cornerstone box which was laid October 10, 1884: one copy of the Phelps County Pioneer dated August 28, 1879; one copy of the Nebraska Nugget dated June 25, 1884; one copy of the Holdrege Republican dated September 10, 1884; and eight business cards of 1884.

New articles added to the list included: one 1909 copy of Arnold’s Complete Directory of Phelps County; one copy of the Holdrege Citizen; one copy of the Holdrege Progress; one copy of the Loomis Sentinel; one copy of the Bertrand Herald; one sample copy of the Phelps county courthouse and jail bond; annual statement of the following banks – City National Bank of Holdrege; First National Bank of Holdrege; First National Bank of Loomis; Farmers State Bank of Loomis; First National Bank of Bertrand; First State Bank of Bertrand; Atlanta State Bank and Funk Bank; one photograph of the 1909 Phelps county supervisors and county officers; notice of cornerstone laying with program of November 26, 1910; one copy of the 1910 delinquent tax list; roster of Glover Post No. 111 G.A.R. of Company E 2nd Infantry N.N.G.; small bottle containing sample of grass wheat gown on the SE1/4 of Section 18-5-17 in 1880; a short history of Phelps county; one copy of the January 10, 1888 Nebraska Nugget (Booster Edition); one complete certified history of the 1909 bond election; some coins; one photograph of the old courthouse; one photograph of the Christian Orphans’ Home; one perfect corn ear raised by Sam Schrock in 1910; and some business cards.

Courthouse Opens

Some delays were caused by failure to receive shipments of material on time, so it was not until June 13, 1911, that the keys of the new building were turned over to the county by the contractors. However, by August 12, 1911, the last county official had moved into the new building and every official department of the county was placed in “convenient and sumptuous” quarters.

After the courthouse was built and the grounds landscaped, Andrew Urbom supervised digging up large trees in the Fleischman grove south of Holdrege and having them transplanted to the courthouse square.

The original contract price for the construction of the new building was $80,819.00. Naturally, during its construction certain changes and improvements were made. Contracts for improvements included:

Extra marble $3,516.00

8 Vault doors 520.00

Hardware 231.50

Cell Walls 286.00

Plumbing 300.00

Detention Cell 46.25

Terazzo Floors 455.00

The total cost of the building and improvements was $107,072.00.

Improvements, Remodels and Additions

Early on, there were two Civil War cannons given to Phelps County and mounted on the courthouse lawn. These cannons, unfortunately, were victims of the metal drive during WWII.

Sometime along the way, an elevator was added and nice, large, remodeled men’s and women’s restrooms were installed on the basement level.

In more recent years the courthouse has received new electrical wiring and a heating system. And of course, there was the Phelps County Justice Center addition, which not only added space to the Phelps County Sheriff office, the Nebraska State Patrol office and the jail area, but expanded the County Clerk and Treasurer’s offices.

Thanks to our Phelps County ancestors, we have a beautiful stone courthouse that everyone can be proud of.


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